DeSean Jackson has looked a little lighter during the first couple of days of Eagles OTAs.
After all, he got that monkey off his back.
Jacksons 2011 season started only after he held out of training camp for several days. Later in the season, he was suspended by the team for a crucial game against Arizona for missing a meeting. And, overall, his performance struggled, dipping below 1,000 yards receiving with just four touchdowns.
It all seemingly stemmed from Jackson's wanting a new contract, a contract which he finally received in mid-March. The deal is worth 46.75 million over five years, including 15 million guaranteed.
Its just good to be able to focus on football a little bit more, Jackson said on Wednesday, the second day of Eagles OTAs. The first day of OTAs being this week and practice Its a good feeling to be out here with the guys and just feels like a new energy.
Thats the new, more mature Jackson talking. After signing his new deal, he expressed regret in the way he handled his contract situation last year, and claimed hes a more mature version of himself.
Jackson is a cornerstone for the Eagles' offense, which ranked fourth in the NFL in yards per game last season, and the team certainly needs him. So have his teammates sensed that Jackson has put last year in the past and is ready to go?
He better be, fellow receiver Jason Avant said. Thats our expectation of him. He got his contract and hopefully hes a pro and he will be the player that he is and play as hard as he knows how to play. And I think if he does that well be fine.
Aside from just being the type of Pro Bowl player and big-threat receiver hes become, Jackson has also taken it upon himself to become a leader of the offense.
The contract is good, but me being a leader has nothing to do with the contract, Jackson said. I just want to set an example out here for the guys. Weve bonded as a team. I think everybody is really stepping up and being accountable for it.
Its been a long time since Jackson slipped into the second round of the 2008 draft, when the Eagles scooped him up with the 49th-overall pick out of Cal. There were some character concerns back then, which seemed to drop his draft status. And those character concerns appeared throughout his first four years in the league. But now, hes 25 years old. And hes being paid like one of the top receivers in the league.
Being a leader honestly, Jackson said when asked what one area of his game he wanted to improve. Carrying the guys along with me. Stepping up and being accountable, thats the biggest thing this team needs. Myself, Michael Vick, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy, Brent Celek, these guys, as far as the offense, it starts there. We have to go out there and help our defense out by keeping them off the field and scoring as many points as possible.
As long as were able to lead, everybody watch us. It doesnt have to be anybody screaming, yelling but as long as were out there showing the young guys doing what they need to do, theyll follow.
Jackson is now a leader of the team. But even before he was, he was a major part of one of the NFLs most explosive offenses.
Jackson has 13 touchdowns of 60 yards or more, the most in NFL history by a player before turning 26. He has scored 22 TDs of 30 yards or more and has averaged 58 receptions, 1,024 yards and seven TDs in his four seasons. And, hes one of just five players in NFL history to eclipse 900 yards receiving in his first four seasons.
Teams are now playing against Jackson differently because of his big-play ability and the team has noticed.
Thats all they do, Jackson said. I think we realize that now. This year I just think we need to work the intermediate game a little bit better. Keep em honest.
With Jackson and McCoy having both signed new contracts, and Vick, Maclin and Celek back, the Eagles' offense has the potential to be one of the best in the NFL. They were one of the more explosive offensive units last season, but were plagued by turnovers.
We cant show times of being good and times of being terrible, Jackson said. We have to figure out what it is that we want to do and stick with it. Thats our identity. We dont want to be a team thats known for our ups and downs.
One of the biggest ups of the season came in the last four games. The Eagles, of course, won their last four games of the 2011 season to finish with an even 8-8 record. Many called those four games fools gold, including team owner Jeffrey Lurie. While Jackson said the momentum from those games might not carry over, he did admit that the feeling of hunger the team felt will pay off this season.
I think the biggest thing about our squad is that everybody knows whats at stake right now, he said, from the front office, to the coaches, to the players. I think its a bond that weve created together and its one common goal and thats the Super Bowl.
E-mail Dave Zangaro at email@example.com